Jack Draper in the first round of the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open, Spain
Jack Draper in the first round of the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open, Spain | (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Tennis | Good management and talent combine for the rise of Jack Draper

By Jack McArdle

As Jack Draper looks towards the ATP top 100 , lets take a look at how the Brit has gained direct entry to this year’s Miami and Madrid Open tournaments through the power of his management company.

 

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Making his debut at this week’s Madrid Open, Jack Draper valiantly pushed the World No.8 Andrey Rublev to three sets before narrowly missing out in the decider. He had already beaten Lorenzo Sonego earlier that week – ranked 94 spaces above him in the rankings.

This was just Draper’s second professional ATP event of 2022 and his fifth ever – and all have been main draws of ATP 500 level events or higher. 

First of all, let’s disregard the Queen’s Club and Wimbledon appearances from last year, as lower-ranked British players are often given foot-ups in the grass season with the tournaments being owned by the LTA. But how does a player ranked outside the top-100 receive entries to three top-level overseas tennis events which see players ranked as high as 45th in qualifying?

This is the power of a ‘wildcard’. Tennis tournaments have a limited number of spaces in the draw which they can award to any tennis player. These are generally awarded to local players  of the tournament, past champions or in Draper’s case – a link to IMG. 

IMG is regarded as one of the top global sports, events and talent management companies. Based in New York City, the company is a subsidiary of Endeavor, which represents key events in America such as the NFL and NHL, as well as owning UFC and Miss Universe.

 

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They run several professional and exhibition tennis events across the year in places like Silicon Valley, Rio, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid. As well as this, they currently have many professional tennis players signed for them such as Naomi Osaka (who has left to run her own agency) and Emma Raducanu.

But in Draper’s case, it is his signing with IMG that has opened the window of opportunity for his tennis career, with the company awarding him with two wildcards into Miami and Madrid this year. Previously, IMG has come under scrutiny for awarding these wildcards to players that play nowhere near the level of those inside the top 100. 

In 2019, they awarded Mari Osaka, sister of then World No.1 Naomi a direct entry into her first and only WTA 1000 event – just one step down from a Grand Slam.  Now, without having anything against the now-retired Osaka, she was ranked 339th in the world at the time and had entry to a tournament which had players like Kaia Kanepi and Jessica Pegula in qualifying.

She wasn’t even in good form – having lost both matches she played that year – one in the first round of the Newport Beach challenger 6-0, 6-0, and the other in qualifying for an ITF event in Midland in straight sets. The company found itself battling claims of nepotism around the decision opening a huge debate about where wildcards should be going, and who should have the power to deal them out. 

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But even just as recently as last week, former World No.7 Fernando Verdasco took aim at IMG himself over the Madrid Open’s decision not to give him a wildcard. 

As reported in UbiTennis, Verdasco told reporters: “It’s my city, I played it for 17 years and now that I need it they give wild cards to a world No. 500 and one French,” where he had to go through qualifiers to enter the main draw. 

The 38-year-old was unable to play in the capital city of his country for what might have been the last time, and instead travelled to Aix-en-Provence in France to compete in a challenger. 

Whilst Draper himself is deserving of a wild card to these events given his achievements on the year, does the Brit still need to take them to a level this high? Draper has already won four challenger titles this year, so is proving to players around his ranking that he can beat them.

Therefore, perhaps now is the time to move up from the challenger circuit, and focus on some lower-level ATP events. With the recent challenger wins in Saint-Brieuc and Forli moving Draper into the top 150 for the first time, it won’t be long before ATP 250 level events would have space in their qualifying draws to add his name.

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An important period awaits the 20-year-old, as he hopes to transition onto the main tour and leave the challenger level behind for good. This is where elite-level fitness is more important than ever, and as the grass season is just around the corner, Draper’s confident run to the last eight at the Queen’s Club last year means that he will have to defend 90 of his 589 ranking points.

The Brit secured his first back-to-back victories on the tour at the ATP 500 event last year, defeating Jannik Sinner and Alexander Bublik both in straight sets before losing to Cameron Norrie.

It’s clear that the Sutton-born lefty loves the grass courts, having been coached from a young age on astroturf courts that closely resemble those played on during the British tennis summer. 

With Draper now in good form heading into an important grass season, it might not be long before he has the ranking to enter Miami and Madrid without IMG’s help.

 

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